“The ANC has an interest in destroying the capitalist system and promoting poverty and instability as a background for the move to socialism.”
So says Dr. Anthea Jeffery, head of special research at the South African Institute for Race Relations (IRR), in her new book The Countdown to Socialism: The National Democratic Revolution in South Africa since 1994.
“The aim of the book is to explain why things are so bad in South Africa, why policy is so bad, why corruption is so prominent, why dysfunctionality is so pervasive and why despite this the ANC is not interested in changing not,” Jeffery said at the book’s launch.
These are all symptoms of the ANC’s overarching road map to a socialist system – the so-called National Democratic Revolution (NDR).
Why does this plan cause so much damage to the country?
“A society that wants to move from capitalism to socialism cannot do so in the context of a flourishing capitalist system. However, if the capitalist system is crippled, the argument to move to socialism is that much stronger.”
Therefore, the ANC has an interest in destroying the capitalist system and promoting poverty and instability as a background for the move to socialism.
Jeffery believes it is essential for every South African not only to be aware of this NDR, but also to understand how it underpins all ANC policy decisions and why the ANC clings to it despite extremely poor socialist returns.
Socialism still aims
Despite the dissolution of the Soviet Union as well as the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 1991, the spirit of socialism counterintuitively still haunts South Africa.
“The impression then prevailed that communism had suffered so much reputational damage that it was almost beyond repair. However, that was not the case.”
Many countries around the world looked at it and said that this bad track record didn’t matter, explains Jeffery.
How then does one hold this opinion given the clearly detectable destruction that the ideology sows?
Failures of socialism in the past have been dismissed as “not real socialism”, with so-called “real socialism” centering around human rights.
As Chris Hani already said in 1990: “Socialism is about proper shelter for the homeless. It is about water for those without safe drinking water. It is about health care and a life of dignity for the elderly. It’s about good education for all our people.”
However, this is not an accurate description of socialism, Jeffery believes.
“The reality amounts to pervasive repression, unprecedented state power and control, nearly 100 million people who died in the Soviet Union. It is Mao’s China, Pol Pot’s Cambodia, Vietnam, Cuba and so many more that cannot simply be ignored.”
The NDR was developed as a blueprint through which and with which states would be able to achieve this socialist end goal – also on home soil.
National democratic revolution
The national democratic revolution was developed by the Soviet Union in the 1950s “with the aim of leading various newly independent former colonies from capitalism to socialism”.
The ANC and SACP already committed themselves to the nature and aims of the NDR in the 1960s.
“At that point, they especially hoped that soon after taking power they would be able to establish the desired socialist state.”
With the end of the so-called People’s War (the title of a previous book by Jeffery) in 1994, the Soviet Union was dissolved with a different international order that came into being.
Even if the road to socialism were to be a long one here, the ANC still sees the NDR as a desirable blueprint that lays out the straightest path to socialism.
Political ‘achievements’ so far
The ANC has of course been applying the NDR for the past 30 years, which means that certain political progress has already been made in promoting the agenda. These achievements mainly involve the weakening of various spheres of government with the aim of silencing potential opposition to the NDR.
“The first being the weakening of parliament by filling it with cadres who are accountable to the ANC leadership rather than the voters.”
This weakened parliament therefore does not fulfill its designated oversight role over the cabinet and is too “sleepy” to act when necessary “as shown in the past with ex-pres. Jacob Zuma and more recently also by Pres. (Cyril) Ramaphosa’s Phala Phala saga”.
The judiciary has also been weakened by “always promoting transformation rather than upholding the Constitution on NDR-related matters”.
According to Jeffery, other independent institutions were also weakened by cadre deployment – one indispensable tool of the implementation of the NDR.
However, on several levels, the theory and practice of the NDR is in tension with the letter and spirit of the Constitution. How then made?
“The ANC’s solution to this is a reinterpretation of the Constitution in favor of maintaining the NDR.”
One great example of this is the concept of non-racialism which is a founding value of the post-1994 dispensation, but is constantly betrayed by things like racial quotas, says Jeffery.
Furthermore, reinterpretation takes place when it comes to the so-called search for “broad representation” which is stipulated in the Constitution as an objective for the public sphere, “but not at all the state-controlled entities or the private sector”.
Jeffery believes that broad representation is also a very different thing from the strict mathematical quotas that are often maintained by the government. Likewise, the Constitution stipulates that BEE procurement is not mandatory, “not even for state organs and certainly not for the private sector”.
“On the contrary, this acquisition is recommended only if it is applied to the benefit of the previously disadvantaged – something that continuously disregards BEE requirements.”
With the help of this reinterpreted Constitution, the ANC has achieved certain socio-economic “achievements”.
“The most important of these is the establishment of radical economic transformation (RET) which gained prominence under Zuma, as ‘our RET leader’.”
RET – the socio-economic subsection of the NDR – places, among other things, large-scale restrictions on informal or temporary labor which in practice simply leads to fewer job opportunities. Under this banner, employment equity and BEE rules have also been tightened with stricter requirements and much heavier penalties, fewer defenses and larger fines for non-compliance.
Under Zuma, land claims were also reopened with 160,000 more claims submitted while the underlying legislation stood. Likewise, several bilateral investment treaties “with some of our most important Western partners were terminated where countries such as Russia, Cuba and China were not treated in a similar manner”.
Through this, Hani’s vision of a human rights-based socialism was promoted.
“Socio-economic rights are not only included in the 1996 constitution, but its vertical application has been interpreted by the ANC in such a way that it also binds the private sector in certain spheres of application.”
On this road to socialism, the state is the only provider of all socio-economic needs and people have been made more dependent on the state “which has created enormous state dependence”.
If the ANC does not have access to the government, it obviously cannot fill the government with this policy.
“There is no need to bring about change through chaos and overthrow in the streets when the ANC can only be voted out of its position of power in the 2024 general election,” explains Jeffery.
With the ANC able to win 46% of national support in the 2021 municipal election, and numerous opinion polls predicting a drop to below 50% in the national election since then, it is not impossible.
However, this is no guarantee for a loss of power, because the ANC can easily still govern in coalition with a smaller party. Even a loss of power in a few provinces could break the ANC’s hegemony on the national council of provinces, which would weaken its grip on the legislature.
Possible loss of power is not the ANC’s only headache.
“The ANC is well aware of the threats to its current dominance and the NDR – as its Nasrec 2 resolution on Strategy and Tactics (issued in March 2023) makes clear.”
The so-called organized counter-revolution aims to disorganise, weaken and ultimately destroy the ANC from within, which threatens the tripartite alliance’s survival.
Whether he loses or retains, in the meantime South Africans can expect the ANC to intensify its NDR-based socialist propaganda campaign, in the purported best interests of “the people”.
“Before you can fight this propaganda, you must first understand what is underlying it.”